The Once and Future Double Hung Window
As springs creeps a little closer, my mind wanders over to the window looking for signs of change. Not much is happening outside so let’s consider the window itself, and especially the iconic double-hung variety — that is, a window with two sashes that can move past each other either up or down. It’s one of many window types to consider when you are designing or building a new house and remains a powerful symbol of home, as shown in this New Yorker cover by artist
Gretchen Dow Simpson (courtesy Art.com). The double hung window has a long
history, from Georgian London (this example dates from sometime after 1709 (photo courtesy Visitinghousesand gardens.wordpress.com) and Colonial
America — remember the House of Seven Gables at Salem, Massachusetts with many sash windows added around 1725 (photo above by Daderot courtesy Wikipedia) — to the California mining country in the mid-19th century,
as shown here in a photograph by Roger Sturtevant taken for the Historic American Buildings Survey in 1934 (photo courtesy the Library of Congress). This latter four-paned variety, like the one sketched by Gretchen Dow Simpson, became an important starting point for well known Northern California architects like William Wurster and Joseph Esherick as they began to evolve a brand of regional modernism beginning in the 1930s. Here’s a modern house by
returned to the double hung window in his Sea Ranch Cottages of the mid 1980s, as shown in our Plan 447-3, above. And architect Ross Anderson — who once
worked for Bill Turnbull — used double hung windows in our coastal Plan 433-1, shown here. Fewer panes opened up the window, helping to frame the vista as well as well as bring in more light. Though Modernism perfected the window
wall — thus moving away from the double-hung window — it remains a powerful element in residential architecture today, as shown in this recent design — a sort of updated house of seven gables — by Estes Twombly Architects. The windows are by Marvin Windows and Doors (photo courtesy Marvin). The architects
turned them into a window wall by mounting them close together around a corner of the kitchen. This design looks very simple, and yet it is hard to do because the design is all about proportion and balancing the act of seeing through the window and seeing the window itself. Alvar Aalto is reputed to have said: “When you are designing a window, imagine your girlfriend sitting inside looking out.” In other words a window is always a picture frame — so shape it and place it where it will make the looking good!
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